How Much Do Looks Matter? A Freakonomics Quorum

We’ve written before about various “beauty premiums”: the advantages gained in the marketplace by people who are better looking, taller, or have better teeth than the average person.

Empiricism and theory have their place, of course, but we decided to ask some real people to discuss how much looks really matter. Here are their answers; feel free to add your insights in the comments.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONJim O’Connor


Jim O’Connor

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 152 pounds
Age: 63
Occupation: president of public relations firm, O’Connor Communications, Inc.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your physical attractiveness? On the same scale, how do you rate your intelligence?

Attractiveness, 8. Intelligence, 7.

Has your level of attractiveness ever affected your job or salary?

Yes, positively. People have enjoyed working with me, partly because of my appearance.

How important is physical appearance in your industry?

Somewhat important, since public relations promotes a positive image of companies and other clients, and there is a fair amount of personal contact.

About how many coworkers do you consider above average in attractiveness?

All of them, which is one: my wife!

Do you prefer to work with people you find attractive over people you find unattractive?

Prefer, but not essential. I think it is normal to be comfortable with good-looking people, and they add to a pleasant working environment. However, if a co-worker or client is extremely attractive, it can be a distraction, and sometimes you overlook their professional shortcomings.

Tell me about a work-related incident that made you most aware of the way you look.

I worked at six companies before starting my own business. At every company, one or more women openly flirted with me even though I was married. At one company, a younger woman was very aggressive — told her friends she was “going to get me.” When I left the company, she pursued the man who replaced me. She got fired. Years later, she was in a lawsuit for sexually harassing a fellow employee and was sentenced to a year in jail.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONChristina Manthos at work.
INSERT DESCRIPTIONChristina Manthos

Christina Manthos
Height: 5’4″
Weight: 120 pounds
Age: 28
Occupation: environmental engineer.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your physical attractiveness? On the same scale, how do you rate your intelligence?

Attractivenes, 8. Intelligence, 8.

Has your level of attractiveness ever affected your job or salary?

Sometimes negatively, sometimes positively. When I get mistaken for an administrative assistant instead of an engineer: negatively affected. However, attractiveness greatly improves networking and marketing activities.

How important is physical appearance in your industry?

Not very important at all. I work with wastewater for God’s sake.

About how many coworkers do you consider above average in attractiveness?

6.

Do you prefer to work with people you find attractive over people you find unattractive?

I prefer to work with people who are kind, hard working, and have a good sense of humor — looks don’t matter.

Tell me about a work-related incident that made you most aware of the way you look.

I recently attended an alumni dinner for engineers at my graduate school and I was asked, “Are you really an engineer? You really don’t look like one!”

I’ve also been referred to as eye candy at some of my previous engineering jobs. I don’t mind such comments as long as my abilities are assessed objectively. At my current job, I think this is the case — made clear to me by the opportunities I have been awarded. So far, I have been fortunate to work with very professional people.

However, at some of my former jobs and throughout my school years, I often felt an extreme sense of pressure to prove myself in order to dispel stereotypes. Sometimes, no matter how well I performed, I still felt I was being discriminated against. I was often not taken seriously and on more than one occasion I was accused of cheating off male classmates, which I never did.

For some reason, it was completely unbelievable that an attractive woman would get the highest grade on a calculus or physics exam. It was even more unbelievable for a blond woman. I did not meet the expectations that people had (i.e. the dumb blond stereotype), and people had a hard time accepting it. This discrimination tended to come from older men, who were perhaps wary of a woman’s ability to succeed in a traditionally male environment.

However, I must point out that I have also met some very fair-minded “old guys.” What it really comes down to is the individual. Fair, open-minded people will assess you objectively. People who can’t think for themselves will judge you based on stereotypes.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONLuc Wylder


Luc Wylder

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 187 pounds
Age: 49
Occupation: president of the adult entertainment film company, Fallen Angel Video.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your physical attractiveness? On the same scale, how do you rate your intelligence?

I’d rate myself as a 9 in attractiveness and 9.5 in intelligence. My physical appearance got me in the door and my intelligence enabled me to stay there.

Has your level of attractiveness ever affected your job or salary?

Yes. My initial introduction to the adult industry was as an erotic performer where casting is based almost entirely on physical appearance. I was often paid considerably more than my co-workers, who worked much harder then I did because I had “the look” they wanted.

As my career progressed into directing, producing, and then owning Fallen Angel, I must admit that appearance was often a strong point to leverage a negotiation on my way up the chain of command.

How important is physical appearance in your industry?

Traditionally, the adult entertainment industry has been extremely image based and primarily focused on beauty, health, style, and youthfulness. I believe this focus on physical appearance becomes habitual and spills over into areas of hiring and decision making beyond simply casting beautiful people.

I once took a class on the psychology of influence and persuasion. It taught that potential employers and business people unconsciously value physical appearance, beauty, style of dress, health, hair style, and social skills and often overlook actual skills directly related to the project.

About how many coworkers do you consider above average in attractiveness?

I’m fortunate to work around many beautiful people. I’d say that 85 percent of my coworkers are above average in appearance.

Do you prefer to work with people you find attractive over people you find unattractive?

I find physically attractive people fun to be around but often so self-absorbed that they tend not to be the best workers. As the owner of a globally recognized erotic media company I need people who are dedicated and excel in their jobs. I’d prefer the unattractive skilled worker who performs over the beauty queen who is afraid to break a nail.

Tell me about a work-related incident that made you most aware of the way you look.

A woman once approached me and announced in a loud voice, “Luc Wylder, you’re my fetish.” That’s a very powerful statement coming from a person who had only seen me on-screen and never met me personally.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONDebb Thorne

Debb Thorne

Height: 5’5″
Weight: “Unfortunately, a hell of a lot more than when I was 20.”
Age: 45
Occupation: assistant professor of sociology.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your physical attractiveness?

6 — just a little above average. Especially with the help of cosmetics, a good stylist, and heels. But then, who doesn’t rate themselves above average?

On the same scale, how do you rate your intelligence?

7 — I’m no Einstein, but I do have a Ph.D. (for whatever that’s worth)!

Has your level of attractiveness ever affected your job or salary?

I’m sure it has, but I don’t have any empirical evidence — just anecdotes. I say this because “back in the day,” when I was young and fit, I wore the styles of the time — relatively short skirts and high heels. I was a secretary, and more than once I noticed my “bosses” looking at my legs.

Was that why I was hired in the first place?

My guess is that was part of it. Yes, I had good secretarial skills, but if their glances were any indication, I was also “easy on the eyes.” Also, when I was a waitress, putting my husband and myself through college, I could easy increase my tips by wearing a low-cut blouse and a tight, short skirt.

How important is physical appearance in your industry?

Very. It’s critically important in any occupation. Research shows that. Being unattractive or overweight are proven negatives. For example, see “Is Obesity Stigmatizing? Body Weight, Perceived Discrimination, and Psychological Well-Being in the United States” by Deborah Carr and Michael Friedman (published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior).

About how many coworkers do you consider above average in attractiveness?

In my department, among 30 or so colleagues, three are above average. So 10 percent.

Do you prefer to work with people you find attractive over people you find unattractive?

I would assume that, given that I’m a member of this culture, I do prefer to work with attractive people. Am I necessarily aware of that preference? No. But in our culture we place a high value on appearance. I was born and raised here, so I probably respond in a predictable way.

Tell me about a work-related incident that made you most aware of the way you look.

Heck, every time the new school year begins and a new group of very young adults swarms campus. Due to my occupation, I’m routinely interacting with 18-to 22-year-olds — so my students are always young (relative to my age) and typically attractive. They are a constant reminder that I’m aging and my appearance is not what it used to be.

Does this negatively affect me? Not typically. Once in a while it makes me feel old. But hell, with age “should” come wisdom. And when it makes me feel frumpy and fat, I get motivated to get off my butt and head to the gym.


hb

#103 I absolutely agree. How would race & class factor in both in terms of self rating & rating by others. I imagine that in some cases there would be vast differences.

val

Most of us know that beautiful people are often rich people... And rich people have access to more resources... medical, cosmetic, academic, etc... if you grew up getting private tennis lessons and orthodontia it's likely your folks invested in a college education (and music lessons, and you probably had books in your house growing up, and maybe you can afford Crest whitening strips and expensive haircuts.) Furthermore, could it possibly be true that many tall people are people who had high birthweights and mothers who took vitamins during pregnancy? I know this doesn't explain "short" people with responsible moms, but I don't know many "poor" people (thinking about destitute Latin Americans here) who are topping 5'8".

So the strong calves and tan legs that somebody gets from taking a family vacation to a beach resort in Cabo are going to relate to the way other people rank his/her "attractiveness." Having expensive fashionable clothes isn't going to hurt either.

And of course, let's not forget that the media still considers rich white people beautiful and other people "exotic."

The idea that IQ and physical appearance are related is laughable. Intelligence and success are way more related to access to resources than they are to sheer "biology."

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wait a minute!

Sean- are you suggesting that women are not men's equal- well- will you be soon surprized! I suggest that you think of what you learned from your mother and think again- and about that hypothesis-

I will make you a bet that once my own own proof is made public, that hypothesis will be solved, if not by you then someone from your field (I assume of mathematics)And I have an idea as to the woman who will solve the problem.

Ian

Sorry that you took my original comment as an attack, I hardly think it qualifies but you're entitled to your opinion. I was merely trying to combine an observation with a joke (albeit ever so slightly at your expense). And not to pick nits, but I never insinuated that you were a liar. Can a statement based on a delusion be consider a lie? I hardly think so, and I would definitely give you the benefit of the doubt.

So I think we've established that while you may have once been blond (a fact I could not have known from the article) you are probably not blond now. We've also established your GPA. That certainly helps to make a point, though perhaps not the point you had in mind. But most importantly we've established that you have no sense of humor. You probably would if you were blond (they have more fun) but alas...

I was originally hoping to start a discussion about one of the finer points of beauty premiums but since this has devolved into something else entirely I'm going to move on. I won't be posting any more comments on this article - feel free to have the last word.

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yubi

hee hee...maybe looks dont = confidence. the blonde woman (i agree with your blondness, but then again, i am south american, where all hair that is not black is blond) has apparently quite the bone to pick with the commentors. or maybe highly attractive people put a lot of weight on their attractiveness???

i think that people's perception of beauty has to do with their surroundings. here in miami beach, i would say i am average...both in looks and weight. but hey man, take me to a small town in the northeast (pre-emptive apologies) and id be hard pressed not to rate myself a little higher. although miami beach has done wonders for my perception of my intelligence...it's all relative.

Christina Manthos

I got defensive because you basically called me a liar and if you actually knew me, you'd know I am one of the bluntest people you'll ever meet. Honestly, I could care less what color my hair is - the truth: it was blond when I was in HS/Undergrad. I spent lots of time outdoors back then and the sun bleached my hair. Now, it's either dark blond or light brown - who cares! Just don't call me a delusional liar and we'll be just fine.

Sure your generalization may hold true for insecure women who need to define themselves by their hair color, expensive clothes, expensive purses, and whatever other ridiculous things they choose to spend their money on but I can assure you I'm not one of those women.

Anyway, I did pick up on your insult to my intelligence but you know what that's your opinion not an accusation of dishonesty, so I didn't feel the need to defend myself. But since you brought it up again, I'll comment on your "buried insult"... essentially, it wasn't the blondness that makes you dumb (you're not blond), you're just dumb.... chuckle, chuckle. I'm pretty sure that graduating with a 4.0 from Graduate School in Engineering at least makes me somewhat intelligent, so I'm good to go. It certainly makes me more intelligent than someone who spends their free time attacking people on blogs. If I wasn't personally involved, I certainly wouldn't be writing a thing right now.

Off to enjoy the beautiful day :-).

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Hoosier Paul

I response to J (#44) who questioned how Ron Jeremy could become a success in the adult industry:

Mr. Wylder said that casting in the adult industry is based "almost entirely on physical appearance," which is different than being based on physical attractiveness. It's not hard to figure out what element of Mr. Jeremy's appearance (and, presumably, of Mr. Wylder's) allowed him to be successful in the adult industry.

Charles

Christina - Sweet post! Indeed, there are people above average in everything. "Hey, Tiger how would you rate yourself as a golfer?" "Oh I'm a 7." Whatever!

I've always said beautiful people are a dime a dozen. That's because the scale is absolute. You take 10 aesthetically gifted people and put them in a room and rate them on an "attractiveness" scale and you get a skewed distribution of 9s and 10s. We've kind of done that here.

While we are at it, smart people are a dime a dozen and I've heard that smart/looks actually correlate somewhat. Now great looking smart people who are also funny and not afraid to eat dead animals - those folks are are not so easy to find.

Lastly - loved the post on stealth beauty...I've experienced this and it's cool. It's a deeper burning attractiveness rather than a fleeting flash.

jenni

Christina, you are gorgeous and an engineer to boot. Just putting up with the BS you must get in a mostly male industry must be hilarious! You all were asked to rate yourselves on a 1-10 scale. As compared to whom? On both accounts, compared to most people in your industry, you would likely be a 10 in attractiveness and at least a 9 in intelligence (I'm assuming that there are many bright engineers...you can't fake that stuff!) I'm a naturally light blonde. It's bottle blondes that think only platinum blondes qualify as being blonde. Blow off that stupid comment. And your photos are adorable. In my business I'm off the charts in terms of attractiveness and intelligence and it works against me because of female jealousy. But put me on the streets of NYC (where I work) or LA (used to be a professional actor) and I wouldn't be a superstar by any means. It's all perspective. And in good fun.

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Christina Manthos

Deborah, thank you for your kind comments.

Deborah Thorne

Christina:
I admire your guts to put up your work photo. No way in hell would I have done that! And I have to say that your "rankings" re: intelligence and appearance are probably too low. Engineering is a rigorous discipline, and you are a beautiful woman.

November

For some reason this got me thinking.... I wonder if there is a link between attractiveness & intelligence. I know the stereotype is that good - looking people are dumb, but in my personal experience I have found that typically (& there are exceptions), but typically reasonably intelligent people tend to be reasonably attractive. Perhaps it is not that pretty people are advantaged because of their looks, maybe pretty people tend to have a better overall genetic makeup, iq and personality included.

jenni

Luc really has the most credible comments since his attractiveness quotient has already been rated by the industry and his intelligence has kept him rocking in an industry that changes by the day. Talk about competition based almost solely on attractiveness! I hope he continues with his success. Intelligent adult entertainment seems to be the wave of the future. Luc has helped to reform a once questionable business into an art form that is still evolving. Look at the great fine art that was once considered to be scandalous! Life is all about attractiveness and every one of us can be the very best we can be inside and out...that is true charisma!

Christina Manthos

FYI Ian (#61), I found this on the internet and thought I'd share.

http://www.wiggoddess.com/margucolors.html
See color #14 and read my previous comment #74.

Before accusing women of essentially being delusional, educate yourself.

Celeste

This is interesting...but everyone chosen was attractive. Perhaps attractiveness had a place in choosing people for this post? I would have liked to see some ugly people, and what their viewpoints would be.

Sabrina

#68 - I've encountered both phenomena in others - both "stealth beauty" and "stealth ugliness." There's also "stealth beauty via alcohol" (i.e. no one is ugly after a certain number of drinks).

Re the looks vs. success debate, here are two names to ponder, just for starters: Karl Rove and Madeleine Albright

Christina Manthos

To answer Ian's question, I have dark blond hair now and I used to have lighter hair when I was in school. That's when the accounts I gave took place. Honestly, I personally prefer dark hair but this is what I was born with so I let it be. I've never dyed my hair and in general I believe in keeping things as natural as possible.

It's amusing to see people judge my entire character based on a couple of paragraphs of information. I never felt the need to do that to others. In fact, this is the first blog I have ever commented on. What does that say about the commentator's character and their amount of free time?

As I mentioned in a previous comment, I found it difficult to rate my own appearance so I asked around. I personally thought I was a 7 but when I heard how other people ranked me (and themselves)I figured, hey maybe I am selling myself short.

Also, did any of the commentators ever think that maybe people look much different in person than they do in snap shots? Unless you are a super model, most people are unphotogenic and look much different (typically better) in person. I don't know about the others interviewed but my photos were snap shots, not professional photos (as the others appear to be). The first photo I submitted was of me with absolutely no makeup and uncombed hair. Most people would hide those types of photos but I was trying to keep it real. The second shot was actually taken in a dimly lit bar. Hence, why my hair is darker than stated.

All in all, I gave very honest accounts of my experiences and I did my best to rank myself. I found it difficult to rate my own appearance, so I asked around. I think most people would have done the same. Also, remember these people were ranking me in person - not from a snap shot.

One last point - When someone is asked how they view themselves, is the only socially acceptable answer AVERAGE? It seems to be. Otherwise, you are viewed as a huge snob.

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dnm

That's hilarious -- they're all ugly. Especially the first guy. He looks like someone set his face on fire and put it out with a shovel.

Nance, again

what happened to the phrase,

"with looks like that who needs money?"

these people might all be seen as working stiffs and slaves to the system.

I mean that's why people have careers, to get money and be labeled by economists as successful, right?

Jessie

I'm surprised by how quick commenters have been to dismiss Mr. Wylder's intelligence. His background is untraditional, to say the least, but he is still the president of a major company in a super-competitive industry. And while Dr. Thorn is clearly highly intelligent, the fact that she has a PhD isn't necessarily proof of this. A smart-but-not-brilliant person can make it through graduate school; a genius might be much happier working as a mechanic than as a professor. Intelligence comes in many forms and is found in many places, and the world would be pretty boring if it didn't.